Gov. Tate Reeves on Thursday extended the statewide Safe Return order for another two weeks and added eight new counties to the list of those ordered to wear a mask when conducting business or otherwise being in public.

“Even if you do not personally fear coronavirus, the overwhelming of our healthcare system will affect all of us,” Reeves said. “If you get in a car wreck, you don’t want to get treated in a tent.”

There are now 37 counties under mandatory mask orders, including Carroll, Coahoma, Jones, Lee, Leflore, Lowndes. Noxubee and Pontotoc, which Reeves added Thursday.

Health officials identified 22 more coronavirus cases in Pike County but reported no additional deaths Thursday. Franklin, Lawrence and Walthall counties all reported one new death.

Statewide, officials identified 1,775 new infections and 48 deaths, both one-day records. State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said 23 of the deaths were discovered through older death certificates dating between July 10 and July 27.

“It’s still bad out there, guys,” he said. “We’re still seeing a significant impact in our long-term care setting.”

Byers said outbreaks among residents and staff at long-term care facilities are ramping up and many are dying. He and Reeves noted that transmission throughout the community at large.

“We’re seeing a lot of transmission within nuclear family groups and a lot of transmission that’s coming from interacting with that family member that you don’t see that often,” Byers said.

Byers said the rate of hospitalization among long-term care residents and staff is astoundingly high and that he’s never seen such extensive and severe transmission of respiratory illness in such settings. And Reeves predicted the state would see an unprecedented increase in death among long-term care facility staff and residents over the coming weeks.

“This is a highly vulnerable population,” Byers said. “Transmission can occur rapidly.”

There were just four available intensive care unit beds in Jackson metro-area hospitals as of Thursday.

In other news, Reeves said he is reviewing each school’s reopening plan over the weekend and will provide comments to school administrators, including recommendations, at some point next week.

Reeves said children receive important resources they otherwise wouldn’t have access to through public school. He noted mental health and medical resources including mandatory reporting and daily meals are just a handful of reasons why instruction must return for the school year.

“The reopening of school in this environment is a major challenge. I get that,” Reeves said. “But we can’t let kids get so far behind that they can never catch up, it’s just not realistic. We are trying to find the right answer to mitigate and minimize risk on both sides of the equation. There are risks to be mitigated no matter the decision.”

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